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The HNA Open de France is our next stop on the European Tour as we look to keep the positive momentum going from the past couple of months. Whilst neither Lucas Bjerregaard or Aaron Rai from last week’s preview could convert their share of the 54-hole lead in Germany, they did nevertheless both hang on for a full each-way return and a nice overall profit on the week.
On to this week then and a return of the Rolex Series means a significant step up in terms of field quality as the players look to take a sizeable chunk of the $7m prize fund home with them. This week’s French Open signals the start of the lead-up to the Open Championship with the Irish Open following next week from Ballyliffin, followed by a return to Gullane for the Scottish Open in a fortnight’s time. As some of this year’s Open Championship cast make their way over to Europe we can expect more star names to appear on the entry lists, however for now we’re looking at the likes of Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren and Sergio Garcia from the OWGR top-20 in attendance in France.
The side-story this week of course is that the Albatros course here at Le Golf National will host this year’s Ryder Cup and a number of Europe’s potential team members are here this week, hoping to grab some useful qualifying points or, at the very least, impress an on-looking Thomas Bjorn. Of the Team USA contingent only Justin Thomas has made the effort which is both surprising and disappointing in equal measure, however he’ll be undoubtedly taking some feedback to his team once he’s made his debut in Paris this week.
Over on the PGA Tour Steve Bamford previews the Quick Loans National – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Le Golf National, Paris, France. Designer: Hubert Chesneau, 1990; Par: 71; Length: 7,247 yards; Water Hazards: 6; Fairways: Bent/Rye/Fescue; Rough: Bent/Rye/Fescue; Greens: Bent/Meadow Grass, 12’6″ on the stimp.
Course Overview. Le Golf National is always set up strongly for this event and danger lurks on many holes if you miss fairways with water at the start and end of each round. The 7,247 yard, par 71 stadium course was designed to test the very best golfers with a premium on accurate driving and, in particular, approaches to the difficult, undulating greens. Missing greens isn’t a great option here as scrambling is tough, so attacking from the fairway has to be the only real strategy and finding the right parts of greens with any consistency is only really possible from the short stuff. The last few renewals have seen a mix of dry conditions (2010, 2013, 2015) and wet (2011, 2012) and a combination of both (2014, 2016, 2017); wet or dry the rough here is amongst the very toughest on the European Tour plus some of the holes are pretty brutal in terms of length – the 17th (480 yards) and 18th (471 yards) play amongst the most difficult on the week.
Predictor Model. Our published Predictor Model is available here. As always you can build your own model using the variables available.
Winners & Prices. 2017: Tommy Fleetwood, 22/1; 2016: Thongchai Jaidee, 66/1; 2015: Bernd Wiesberger, 33/1; 2014: Graeme McDowell, 12/1; 2013: Graeme McDowell, 25/1; 2012: Marcel Siem, 70/1; 2011: Thomas Levet, 140/1; 2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez, 80/1.
Weather Forecast. The latest weather forecast for Paris is here. A warm, dry few days leading up to the event will have firmed up the track and with temperatures increasing to the mid-80s Fahrenheit for the 4 days of the tournament itself, we’re in for some fast conditions on fairways and greens. Wind won’t be a particular issue this year with the breeze topping out at around 10-15mph in the afternoons.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors.
Analysing the final stats of the past 8 winners at Le Golf National gives us a little more insight into the type of player suited to this test:
Le Golf National is perennially described as a course where tee-to-green excellence prevails and I agree with that to an extent, however minimising bogeys with an excellent short game shouldn’t be underestimated here either. For a player to contend here they’re going to have to find the vast majority of greens in regulation or minimise bogeys with an excellent week around the greens; the winner is ultimately likely to excel in both areas over the four days.
On the subject of scrambling, Tommy Fleetwood ranked 9th on that count last year and runner-up Peter Uihlein led the field with an excellent 82.6%. Thonchai Jaidee ranked 2nd in the field for getting the ball up and down the year before; players ranked 1st to 5th for scrambling finished inside the top 6 overall in 2015; 1st, 2nd and 6th for scrambling finished inside the final top 5 in 2014; likewise in 2013 players ranked 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th for scrambling finished inside the top 6; 2012 had players ranked 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th for scrambling finish inside the top 4 and 2011 had similar stats with 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th ranked players for scrambling finishing inside the top 7. This all makes sense when you consider that the greens here are designed to be played firm and fast so they’ll be difficult to hold for all but the very best tee-to-green practitioners in anything but soft conditions.
Incoming Form: Form-wise there’s a really mixed bag when looking at the winners in recent years: Tommy Fleetwood was clearly in good nick having finished 4th at the US Open and 6th at the BMW International Open immediately prior to his success here 12 months ago; Jaidee hadn’t recorded a single top-10 finish in 2016 prior to winning; Wiesberger had finished 27th in Germany the week before and 2nd in Ireland, however in between those results were 4 missed cuts; McDowell improved on his 6th place finish in Ireland on his previous start before defending his title 3 years ago and was in the middle of his win-or-bust run when he arrived here the year before with form of MC/1/MC/1/MC/MC/MC; Marcel Siem was in decent nick with 4 top-10s to his name in 2012 prior to victory, whereas Tomas Levet hadn’t recorded a top 10 all season prior to his emotional (and for him painful) victory the year before. Jimenez had missed 3 cuts in his last 5 attempts before his triumph here in 2010; Kaymer was coming into form in 2009 when he won, however he’d missed the cut the week before; Larrazabal was a shock outsider who came through qualifying in 2008; Storm had managed a couple of top 10s in his last 10 starts in 2007; Bickerton had missed 4 of 5 cuts in 2006 and Remesy’s successful defence in 2005 came off the back of a very poor season. All in all a very mixed bag.
Course Form (back to 2010): It’s also interesting to note that 11 of the past 13 winners here had previously recorded a top-25 or better on this course prior to their success, so looking for players with a strong track record here has generally proven to be a positive strategy. Tommy Fleetwood’s win last season blew that logic apart though as he’d previously failed to make the weekend on four attempts here before winning his second title of the season. Since 2010, course form of the winners here is as follows:
The Rolex Series events to date have gone to Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Rose, Branden Grace, Jon Rahm (again), Franceso Molinari and most recently Thorbjorn Olesen and that list of name sets the scene as to the potential type of winner we may see again this week. Undoubtedly there’s some good each-way value to be had given the likes of Thomas, Rahm, Fleetwood and Noren at the top of the betting who are taking up a fair chunk of the market between them, however it wouldn’t surprise me for the next name in that Rolex winners’ sequence to be a fairly logical one.
My selections are as follows:
Tyrrell Hatton 2pts EW 33/1 with Coral
Respect needs to be given to the players at the top of the betting this week, of that there should be little argument. Justin Thomas has only recently been knocked off the OWGR No.1 perch by Dustin Johnson and deserves to be a short-priced favourite, despite this being his course debut. Recent winners here have had some (good or bad) experience of the course though and that coupled with a nice message from his Nan which alludes to an illness are enough to dissuade me this week. Jon Rahm finished 10th here last year, however whether he has the patience to win this type of event that isn’t all about target golf – as we saw at Shinnecock Hills – is debatable. For me, Tommy Fleetwood should just about be edging favouritism here and he’s already proven that he can defend a title, however he’s a perennially skinny price nowadays and for me the value lies elsewhere.
One player who’s already proven his worth at Rolex Series level is Tyrrell Hatton and with a firm and fast course we could see his short game skills and phenomenal mid-range putting come to the fore here this week. 6th at the US Open halted a worrying run of results reading 44/MC/42/MC/MC/MC after some strong early-season form that had seen him finish 3rd in Dubai and 3rd again at the WGC Mexico Championship. We know with the Englishman though that he’s an emotional sort who blows hot and cold, however when his game picks up he’s a ready winner at this kind of level. Last summer’s form line of MC/MC/MC/MC/MC/36/MC quickly gave way to 3/8/1/1 as he found top gear and it won’t be a shock to me if he does the same thing again over the next few weeks now that he’s seemingly happy with his game. The catalyst for this most recent step-change in performance may well be the new irons and wedges that he put in the bag for the US Open and with a much-improved GIR ranking of 12th at Shinnecock, it’s clear to see that something’s working well.
A firm and fast Le Golf National will play quite linksy in my view and with two Dunhill Links titles in his locker already, his fit for the style of golf which may well be required to some degree this week isn’t in question, nor is his ability to compete at the upper-end of European Tour golf. The 26 year-old’s 4th place finish in last year’s Honda Classic is also interesting given that this week’s defending champion Tommy Fleetwood finished on the same mark a few months ago at PGA National and 2-time Open de France winner Graeme McDowell also has a sparking record at the Honda, having finished in the top-10 on 4 occasions over the years. A tougher test suits Tyrrell down to the ground and he knows perfectly well that a win over the next few weeks in these big events will cement his position at the top of the European Points list for Ryder Cup qualification. RESULT: T16
Paul Dunne 1pt EW 50/1 with Betfred
Another name that wouldn’t look out of place in the growing list of Rolex Winners is Paul Dunne and should the emphasis swing a little more towards short game excellence as the greens firm up here, I suspect that a player like Dunne could excel. The Irishman’s British Masters victory right at the start of the Ryder Cup qualifying campaign raised some expectations that he could work his way onto Thomas Bjorn’s team and whilst he’s drifted a little since, a victory in this kind of event would undoubtedly put him back in with a solid chance of a return to these parts in late September. That’s not to say that his form has tailed off significantly since that breakthrough victory – 7th at the Dunhill Links, 5th at the Corales Championship (PGA Tour), 8th at the Houston Open (PGA Tour), 2nd at the Open de Espana and 7th at the China Open are testament to that fact. Given the 25 year-old’s incredible short game and uncanny ability to play outstanding recovery shots when missing fairways, the setup and conditions could fall into his lap here this week as he looks to build on his 13th place finish here last year where he led the field for putting and needed just 102 putts in total over the course of the week. 30th on his last start at the Italian Open saw further evidence of his hot putter as he ranked 2nd in the field at 1.60 putts per GIR and if he can somehow find a way to hit a few more fairways than normal here this week then he’s got a chance in my view. RESULT: T21
Hao-Tong Li 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral
A couple of players I mentioned on this week’s podcast also have solid each-way place claims this week. First up Hao-tong Li who won the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this season and at 42nd in the World Rankings is overpriced versus a number of his peers here if you consider OWGR to be a significant enough factor. Following his victory at the Emirates GC in January, the 22 year-old proceeded to start tinkering with his swing which had an immediate – and negative – impact on his results as he failed to break the top-30 on any of his next 9 starts worldwide. The changes appear to be bedding in though as a top-20 finish at the Italian Open, where he was 6th going into the final day, was followed by a creditable 16th at the US Open where crucially for him he found his range with his irons once again. Topping GIR as the Chinese youngster did at Shinnecock Hills is no mean feat and following an opening round of 79 – which put him in serious danger of missing the cut – only 4 players in the field bettered his 68/74/69 totals over the remainder of the week. If we’re looking for a little bit of links form this week then 3rd at last year’s Open Championship sticks out like a sore thumb, however it’s his progressive form here at Le Golf National where 6 competitive rounds read as 75/72/71/70/70/67 – and culminated in a 7th place finish last year – that ultimately force him onto this week’s team.RESULT: T21
Soren Kjeldsen 1pt EW 70/1 with Betfred
One of the more experienced players on the European Tour also makes my team this week and that’s Soren Kjeldsen. The 43 year-old has finished inside the top-20 here at Le Golf National an incredible 10 times since 1998 and quite simply loves this style of challenging golf. Wins at Valderrama in 2008, where he beat former Open de France winner Martin Kaymer, as well as at the Irish Open in 2015 where another former winner here Bernd Wiesberger was part of the play-off that the Dane eventually won, both resonate well for this week, as does top-10 finishes at 3 of the 4 Majors over the years. In the years when this layout has been firmer and faster, the 4-time European Tour winner has performed well, in particular in 2013 when he finished 8th having been 2nd going into the weekend, and with fairways running quickly this week he’ll find that his short, accurate game may well help set up enough scoring opportunities to get him in the mix. After returning from some minor niggles earlier this season with his back, he’s shown some good, progressive form having finished 42nd at the Italian Open, 23rd at the Shot Clock Masters and 7th last week in Germany where he ranked 1st for Driving Accuracy, 6th for GIR and 7th for scrambling – a potent combination indeed for this week. RESULT: T49
Matthew Southgate 0.5pt EW 200/1 with Paddy Power
Finally a small, speculative punt on Englishman Matthew Southgate who’s gone on record in the past to say, “If I had to take a friend to play one course for a weekend it’d be Le Golf National…the standout course on Tour is Le Golf National.” A bit tenuous on its own I agree, however those of you with a long memory may recall a similar story about Soren Kjeldsen ahead of his 2015 Irish Open victory at Royal County Down and as we know in this game we choose to play, stranger things have happened. Southgate is 200/1 here for a reason – he’s missed 2 cuts on the trot in recent weeks (Italian Open and US Open) and of 3 attempts here at Le Golf National, he’s missed the cut twice. I prefer to focus on the positives though and sandwiched between those two missed weekends in Paris we find a creditable 11th in 2016 where he ranked 3rd for Driving Accuracy, 4th for GIR and 3 for Scrambling – decent numbers around these parts. 9th in Oman – where he led going into the final day whilst carrying our money – was on a track with some linksy characteristics and 27th at Wentworth in strong company last month was a vast improvement over 2 missed cuts in his previous attempts at the Surrey classic layout. The biggest tick in the box though – and the reason that I’m happy to take a chance here on the 29 year-old – is that a firm and fast course is likely to appeal to the links-lovers in the field and for the Southend man that’s right up his alley. 6th at last year’s Open and 12th the year before back up a form line of 4/2 at the last two Irish Opens – put simply, he can find his form seemingly from nowhere when the brand of golf suits his game. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the name of Matthew Southgate on the leaderboard at some point this week and potentially in with a chance of grabbing an each-way payout at long odds. RESULT: T5th
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel
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